, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 242-247

Recognition of patient referral desires in an academic managed care plan

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OBJECTIVE: To determine the frequency and determinants of provider nonrecognition of patients’ desires for specialist referral.

DESIGN: Prospective study.

SETTING: Internal medicine clinic in an academic medical center providing primary care to patients enrolled in a managed care plan.

PARTICIPANTS: Twelve faculty internists serving as primary care providers (PCPs) for 856 patient visits.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Patients were given previsit and postvisit questionnaires asking about referral desire and visit satisfaction. Providers, blinded to patients’ referral desire, were asked after the visit whether a referral was discussed, who initiated the referral discussion, and whether the referral was indicated. Providers failed to discuss referral with 27% of patients who indicated a definite desire for referral and with 56% of patients, who indicated a possible desire for referral. There was significant variability in provider recognition of patient referral desire. Recognition is defined as the provider indicating that a referral was discussed when the patient marked a definite or possible desire for referral. Provider recognition improved significantly (P<.05), when the patient had more than one referral desire, if the patient or a family member was a health care worker and when the patient noted a definite desire versus a possible desire for referral. Patients were more likely (P<.05) to initiate a referral discussion when they had seen the PCP previously and had more than one referral desire. Of patient-initiated referral requests, 14% were considered “not indicated” by PCPs. Satisfaction with care did not differ in patients with a referral desire that were referred and those that were nor referred.

CONCLUSIONS: These PCPs frequently failed to explicitly recognize patients’ referral desires. Patients were more likely to initiate discussions of a referral desire when they saw their usual PCP and had more than a single referral desire.

This work was funded by University Hospital Board of Directors, Denver, Colo.